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Port: It is vital that North Dakota's first carbon pipeline is built the right way

Summit has a big responsibility to get things right with this pipeline. Not just for the sake of their own bottom line, but for the future of carbon capture in North Dakota.

Summit demonstration.jpeg
A few dozen landowners on Nov. 18, 2021, attend Summit Carbon Solutions' demonstration south of Beulah, North Dakota, at the site of one of the company's test wells, which will drill to around 12,000 feet to gauge the suitability of the area for carbon dioxide storage.
Craig Bihrle / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — Gov. Doug Burgum has set a goal for North Dakota to be carbon neutral by 2030.

It's a big deal.

"Big" isn't really an adjective that covers it. During a recent episode of my podcast, Plain Talk, Commerce Commissioner James Leiman spoke to me about some $30 billion worth of projects which are in the works for our state and in line with Burgum's goal.

For a state that has struggled with access to capital since, well, statehood, that's an astounding turn of events.

Of that total, $4.5 billion is represented by a new carbon pipeline called the Midwest Carbon Express to be built by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions.

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Wade Boeschans, a long-time leader in North Dakota's coal industry who is now a vice president for Summit, also joined my podcast for an interview about what carbon capture portends for North Dakota .

The promise of these ventures is not just about capturing the carbon emitted by our state's dominant energy and agriculture industries. It's about North Dakota becoming a leader in the new industry of capturing and storing carbon.

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But to achieve that promise, we have to get off on the right foot, which means we have a lot riding on how Summit handles the construction of their pipeline.

And some landowners aren't sold on it yet.

Richland County, in the southeastern corner of the state, recently passed a unanimous resolution opposing the use of eminent domain for the project. At a recent meeting of the Northwest Landowners Association, some expressed concern about the easements Summit is trying to negotiate, arguing that they don't give the property owners enough protections and that the company isn't offering enough money.

Let's stipulate that projects like pipelines or transmission lines, which require negotiation and agreement from hundreds and even thousands of landowners, are a fraught exercise. Some of the initial objections are posturing landowners looking for leverage to negotiate the best deal.

Good for them.

But no company involved in such an endeavor can please everyone. Not when some objections are motivated by ideology.

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The Sierra Club is trying to rally people against Summit's pipeline . You'd think that group would be happy with billions invested in capturing carbon, instead of emitting it into the atmosphere, but they're still politically invested in the fantastical idea that we can replace coal and oil and natural gas with wind turbines and solar panels.

They oppose carbon capture because it doesn't gibe with their utopian vision for how Americans ought to get their energy.

No amount of good faith on the part of Summit is going to overcome that sort of opposition.

Still, Summit has a big responsibility to get things right with this pipeline. Not just for the sake of their own bottom line, but for the future of carbon capture in North Dakota.

If we want to hit Burgum's goal, and if we want carbon capture to not only shore up the viability of our existing industries but create a new industry for our state, we need Summit to get this right.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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